Chelsea clatters into FA Cup semi-finals

Edwin  - CEO March 17, 2024
Updated 2024/03/17 at 6:04 PM
8 Min Read
Wilfred Ndidi started for Leicester FC

As late double sinks 10-man Leicester in chaotic battle

Chelsea were strolling at half-time before Axel Disasi’s remarkable own goal let Leicester back in


Carney Chukwuemeka celebrates after scoring Chelsea’s third goal during the FA Cup quarter-final match against Leicester city at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Glyn KIRK/AFP via Getty Images/The Irish Times

FA Cup quarter-final: Chelsea 4 Leicester City 2


Jacob Steinberg reports for the Irish Times that Chelsea’s capacity for chaos should never be underestimated. Only they could go 2-0 up against Championship opposition in an FA Cup quarter-final and end up needing stoppage-time goals to go through after a second half that will be remembered for Axel Disasi’s incredible own goal, more dissent from the crowd and Cole Palmer expunging the toxic atmosphere with a superb assist for Carney Chukwuemeka.


This was Chelsea at their most mystifying. The celebrations at the end were relieved. There had been boos for Mauricio Pochettino and Raheem Sterling when Leicester City fought back to level the tie just after the hour. Chelsea, two wins from collecting their first trophy under Pochettino, were sweating before the substitute Chukwuemeka combined with Palmer and broke Enzo Maresca’s side in the second of two added minutes.


Leicester, who had Callum Doyle sent off at 2-2, had to take heart from one of their closest rivals for promotion, Leeds United, coming close to causing an upset against Chelsea in the fifth round. They have wobbled of late, their lead at the top of the Championship whittled down to one point after a run of one win in five games, but they refused to be overawed.


It meant that Chelsea would have to be on their game if they were to make the most of hosting second-tier opposition for the third time in this year’s competition. Leicester were committed to their style, Harry Winks often dropping back to start moves from deep, and they caused problems during the first half. Patson Daka and Wout Faes both headed wide from inviting positions, the latter after the suspect Robert Sánchez flew off his line to claim a corner and got nowhere the ball.


Leicester needed more conviction in the key areas. For all their bravery, it was worth noting that many of their players had been below the required standard in the top flight. Winks has fallen long since starting for Pochettino’s Tottenham in the Champions League final five years ago.


There was a remnant of the past in the Nigerian midfielder Wilfried Ndidi, the only player in either starting line-up who played when Leicester beat Chelsea in the 2021 final. There was unease at Maresca, having to trust in a center-back pairing between Faes and Jannik Vestergaard.

Pochettino had picked an attacking team, Enzo Fernández’s suspension in midfield necessitating a switch from the favored 4-3-3 system to something bolder. Mykahilo Mudryk was rewarded for his stunning goal against Newcastle with a start on the left. Sterling stuck close to Nicolas Jackson in the middle, and Chelsea stayed ahead after 13 minutes.


The goal came from a transition sparked by Moisés Caicedo tackling Abdul Fatawu on the edge of Chelsea’s area. Possession was recycled, and Palmer sent Jackson down the right. One-on-one with Vestergaard, he beat the Dane for strength and speed, went outside, and rolled a pass across for Marc Cucurella to tap into an empty net.


Leicester’s right side had evaporated, and Hamza Choudhury’s positioning was exposed. Chelsea kept pushing, and Mudryk and Sterling threatened.


Chelsea’s main issue was carelessness. There was a weird moment when Fatawu conceded a penalty with a lunge on Sterling. Palmer has converted five spot-kicks this season, so it was a surprise to see Sterling grab the ball. His kick was too central, and Jakub Stolarczyk kept the score 1-0.


Perhaps Sterling wanted to make a point after being overlooked by England again. Nobody can ever accuse him of hiding. He missed another chance, chipping wide after being released by Caicedo, but he had an assist when he drove down the left and set up Palmer just before half-time.


It was too simple. Chelsea prefers it bewildering. Six minutes into the second half, Disasi obliged. Racing back to deal with a loose ball on the right, the defender felt some pressure from Daka and panicked, even though he was 40 yards from goal. Sánchez, equally unconvincing in possession, was too far to his left, and the goalkeeper was powerless to stop Disasi’s slice from spinning into the net.

Chelsea’s structure disappeared. Disasi, whose distribution rarely convinces, heard the Leicester fans urging him to shoot whenever the ball came to him. Leicester began to dominate. It was no surprise when Stephy Mavididi cut inside from the left, beat Malo Gusto, and bent a magnificent shot beyond Sánchez.


Leicester were encouraged to chase a third. Too excited, they committed too many players forward. They were exposed when Jackson ran clear after a brilliant piece of skill and drew a trip from Doyle just outside the area. Andrew Madley, the referee, awarded a penalty, downgraded to a free-kick after checking the pitchside monitor and sent Doyle off for denying a goalscoring opportunity.


Chelsea’s hope turned to anger. The home fans vented their fury at Sterling when he blasted the free-kick high and wide. They wanted him substituted, but they booed when Mudryk went off for Chukwuemeka instead and aimed chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” at Pochettino.


The mood was ugly. Sterling was jeered when he finally went off for Noni Madueke, who was sent on to find a late winner. Leicester, who had put Conor Coady and James Justin on, was sitting deep. Stolarczyk made a stunning stop from Caicedo, and Jackson missed a sitter.


Eight added minutes gave Chelsea a shot at redemption. Chukwuemeka took responsibility, playing a one-two with Palmer. It was too quick for Leicester. Palmer’s flick was glorious, and Chukwuemeka ran through to slide a shot in.


Friends again, Chelsea secured victory when Madueke curled in a lovely shot from 20 yards. By then, it was hard to look past everything that had gone before. – Guardian.


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